A solid release, Jarhead Fertilizer’s Carceral Warfare is for lovers of gurgly, pitch-shifted vocals and being hammered in the face with chunky, aggressive death metal riffs.

Release date: December 8, 2023 | Closed Casket Activities | Instagram | Bandcamp

Jarhead Fertilizer’s Carceral Warfare is a solid, brutal, groove-laden death metal album with some excellent songs, as well as some that can be a little one-speed. There are some very obvious musical steps forward from the band since their previous album, Product of My Environment, released in 2021. With more technically aggressive songs, and a continued focus on the American penal system, Jarhead Fertilizer have one-upped themselves in regards to atmosphere, however, there are some moments of ‘sameness’ that their previous album seemed to avoid due to the slightly shorter run time of the songs and the overall album.

Those who are already aware of the Jarhead Fertilizer will know that the band’s main songwriter, drummer and vocalist is David Bland, who is more normally seen behind the drum kit for Full of Hell. Now, despite being a FoH fan, I seem to have missed out on Jarhead Fertilizer before the release of their newest album. Admittedly, a bit of a dim moment on my part seeing as this brutal death metal band features half the current line up (JF also includes Sam DiGristine on guitar/vocals) and one ex-member (Brandon Brown on guitar) of the aforementioned grindcore/noise merchants.

Bland has been open in interviews about using Jarhead Fertilizer to both talk about his upbringing, his family’s experiences with gangs and the prison system. This is something that you hear echoes of throughout the album as samples. The trap beats overlaid with police sirens that act as the intro to “Blood of the Lamb”; the rumbling bass and beeping of, what I guess is supposed to be, a heart monitor on “Torture Cage”. The samples/track added an atmosphere to Carceral Warfare that focuses more on the ugliness of human nature and incarceration rather than the tongue-in-cheek-ness of horror samples that so regularly fill out similar albums. Having said that, this is a brutal death metal album, so it, of course, includes a horror movie sample, courtesy of The Exorcist 3, although in retrospect that movie does partially take place and focus on people locked in a psychiatric ward.

There’s a lot of slam-esque, chunky riffs going on in this album, along with low-end gutturals that are complemented by higher pitched screams, however it’s the drumming that really adds intensity to this album. Bland is on fire behind the kit and adds lots of little flourishes throughout the album that are a testament to his growth as a musician.

The first major highlight, for me, starts from “Torture Cage” and really amps up from there onwards. The wonderfully named “Parasitic Pathology”, a song about the depravity of drug addiction kick is a rampant, rabid dog of a death metal song. Sam and Brandon fervently attack their fretboards, playing lots of angular riffs before odd time signatures are thrown into the mix, along with more straightforward slam-happy riffs. It’s an excellent track with a few different textures to it, showing off some real class songwriting chops on the part of Bland.

Immediately this is followed up by “Wrath of Judas” and “Mark of the Beast”, two ugly songs back to back that up the death metal pace but also include more grind-y moments. “Wrath of Judas”, in particular, includes some of my favourite bass work on this album. A mesmerizing, effect-ridden riff that opens and closes the track and is repeated on guitar, leading the listener into the open jaws of a beast ready to tear their head off when the song really kicks off.

Now, I did touch on this earlier on, but my one struggle with Carceral Warfare is that the first few songs of the album drag, especially on repeat listens. While they are fine unto themselves, “Blood of the Lamb” especially starts off well, there just wasn’t as much here to sink my teeth into and I found myself tapping my fingers waiting for it all to pick up a bit more.

For a band that has been around a long time but not been super active, mainly due to the hyper-activeness of Full of Hell, Carceral Warfare is quite a big tonal shift from one album to another. The fundamentals are the same: hefty and aggressive riffs, hellish drumming and guttural vocals befitting a creature living in a swap. However, there is more technicality on display, more tempo changes, and definitely greater weight given to the dark and dangerous atmosphere on this album. Overall, a tight effort from Jarhead Fertilizer and one that I expect they will further develop their gross death metal sound off of.

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